For the Detroit Tigers, the thrills and surprises become greater each night.

For the Baltimore Orioles, the embarrassments and indignities at the hands of teams they once dominated become worse with each game.

This evening in mute Memorial Stadium, the Tigers increased their lead in the American League East to 1 1/2 games over Boston and Milwaukee with a 6-3 victory over the fallen Birds, who are now four games behind with 11 to play.

Clearly, baseball's meek are meant to inherit the earth.

Or, at least, wend their humble way into the modest miniplayoffs.

This second season may not be baseball, at least not baseball to please the classicist's eye, but, whatever it is, it's delicious if you're a Tiger.

The Bengal heroes tonight were John Wockenfuss and George Cappuzzello.

That's the way it's supposed to be in the magical pennant races of fiction.

"A .200 hitter and a pitcher who never won a game in the major leagues," muttered O's General Manager Hank Peters, referring to the two Detroit worthies.

"The batter with the worst stance in baseball and a AAA pitcher," was the description of Bird Coach Ray Miller, similarly disgusted and amazed.

The less-than-legendary Wockenfuss, called "that guy Watchenfutch" by Baltimore Manager Earl Weaver, crashed two home runs. The first knocked out Mike Flanagan and tied the game, 3-3, in the fourth. The second blast, in the sixth, broke the tie and made a loser of Sammy Stewart.

As for southpaw Cappuzzello, a long-relief mopup man who had spent eight years in the minors and never won a big league game before tonight, all the fellow did was finish the game with 7 1/3 shutout innings of relief.

In their glory, Wockenfuss and Cappuzzello were as charming as large, giddy children.

"The first game I ever started in the major leagues was here in this park earlier this season," said Cappuzzello. "I was looking up into the upper deck, looking at 30,000 people. I couldn't concentrate on the catcher for looking all around me at everything. I lasted one inning."

For Wockenfuss, a veteran journeyman with gray hair caused by "too many years baseball and too many airplane rides," this was also a special night.

"My favorite uncle was here tonight. He's really old, 86, and he'd never seen me play. Before the game, he said, 'How about hittin' two home runs for me tonight?' " said Wockenfuss, a part-time player who entered the game with a .200 average. "I guess he hasn't followed my career real closely.

"When I came up after the second homer, I looked in the stands and he was grinning and holding up three fingers (for a third home run). I just shook my head, 'No,' " said Wockenfuss.

Then Wockenfuss did something that marked this as a true pressure, pennant race game. In the midst of disbelieving teammates, he suddenly began telling tales about his childhood.

"When I was little, I grew up in Welch, W.Va., where my uncle (Chess Stewart) still lives," said Wockenfuss. "We'd always walk by creeks together and he'd flip over rocks until he found a snake. He'd pick it right up and snap its head off like a whip. That thrilled me. Actually, he'd throw the snake on me first, and that scared me to death. He was the greatest. I'm glad I could do this for him."

Then Wockenfuss told about the time a big black snake crawled through the middle of the house as 20 or so family folk were eating a meal. "My mom just picked up an axe and chopped its head off," he said.

"Hey, Wock, let's get back to the game," said Lance Parrish, knowing ballplayers aren't supposed to show who they are.

Wockenfuss tried, talking about how he'd actually apologized to another Tiger for being in the starting lineup because his average was so low and how he'd figured Sparky Anderson would certainly pinch hit for him before his second homer "except I guess he was saving his good bats for later."

But Wockenfuss, in his pennant race thrall, couldn't stay on the subject. "I always like to come to Baltimore this time of year," he said. "I get up at 5 a.m. and go deer hunting with a bow and arrow. Did it yesterday morning."

Only a couple of years ago, the Oriole clubhouse had this quality. Everything about a race was fresh, intoxicating and fun. Each game was pure pleasure and adventure, not pressure and anxiety. Then, the Birds were dizzy in victory, telling stories, spreading themselves large, tasting the moment.

Now, they play under the ton-per-square-inch pressure of vast expectations as the team with the most wins in baseball in the past two years. Perhaps only Lenn Sakata, getting the chance of a lifetime to play shortstop, is loose, aggressive and can't wait for each game.

"Yeah, I'll bet the Tigers are just like we used to be," said Ken Singleton. "No question, the feeling changes when you get to the top. But next year, I think we'll have it back. We need that fresh start. This whole second season has just felt all wrong."

The Birds are ready for next year because this season is all but gone. They squandered a 3-0 lead tonight, built against Detroit's desperation No. 4 starter, Jerry Ujdur, a chap with one career victory. For the second straight night, the Birds tried to hit and run in a crisis inning and saw it blow up into an embarrassing double play. And, for the second straight night, the Tigers came back immediately and worked back-to-back hit and runs perfectly.

"I'm prouder of this team than either of my world champions in Cincinnati," said Anderson, "'cause this bunch was never supposed to do nothin'. They're just havin' a ball and whatever happens, I'll accept it and be proud of it."

On the Oriole side, Weaver watched the replay of a play, a supposed dropped popup by the Tigers, that he had hoped would allow him to file a protest on the game. As the sad little crowd of 9,904 had known long before, there had been nothing to protest. "Nah, no way," murmured Weaver. "I won't even file it . . .

"We been havin' our annual organizational meetings for the past two days, reevaluating everything, top to bottom," Weaver added. "That's appropriate, 'cause it's time to go back to the drawing board."